Return to Ravnica: Selesnya Surge Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s always fun when the payoff arrives after tremendous anticipation, and Sam and I both are eager to get to playing with the new Return to Ravnica Intro Pack decks. For her part, Sam’s grabbed the Rakdos Raid deck, a Black/Red brew with only one thing on its mind- aggression. Can the Conclave withstand the thundering force of their brutal bacchanal?
Sam’s on the play for our opening clash, and leads with a Bellows Lizard. I play a Plains and pass. With nothing else to do, Sam commits the Lizard to the attack and uses her mana to pump it for 1, taking me to 18. I play a second Plains and pass.
Now turn 3, the Lizard only skitters in for 1 as Sam has other plans for her mana- a Rakdos Keyrune. Back to me, I play the Selesnyan model, critically giving me access to Green mana. Next turn, Sam goes aggressive and throws her Keyrune and Lizard at me, pumping the latter for 1 to leave me at 12. This bumps back up to 15, however, when my next play is a Centaur Healer.
This gives me a brief respite from attacks, as Sam uses turn 5 to summon the Spawn of Rix Maadi. She gives it unleash, adding a +1/+1 counter but denying it the ability to block. I add a Centaur Courser and pass. Next turn, Sam grabs the Courser with a Traitorous Instinct, swarming me with everything. I block and kill her Lizard with my Healer, but the rest of the menagerie rumble on through to batter my life total. Down to 3 life, I attack with the disloyal Centaur for my own first blood and pass.
Now turn 7, Sam slips the trap I’d set for her when she only attacks in with the Spawn. I’d hoped she would commit the Keyrune as well so I could kill it, too- I’ve got both Rootborn Defenses and Savage Surge in hand with the mana for both, and could turn them into ersatz removal spells for both her creatures. Alas, I only get the one, so I have to improvise. I use the Surge on a Centaur then gang-block the Spawn with both. Sam can only kill one of my two blockers and opts for the Healer. Although it’s a two-for-one, I’ve at least eliminated one major threat- but only to see it replaced with a Zombie Goliath and a Rakdos Cackler (with unleash). For my part, I play another Centaur Courser.
Next turn, Sam attacks in with the Keyrune and the Goliath, and I’m able to claw back some advantage when I two-for-one her with a timely Rootborn Defenses and my now-indestructible 3/3 blockers. Without any tokens on board the populate goes to waste, but sometimes needs must. She adds a Gore-House Chainwalker with unleash, and ends her turn. Back to me, I swing in for 6 with the Coursers to drop Sam to 11, then use a Bountiful Harvest to greedily lap up 6 life.
Now turn 9, Sam puts me down another 5 when she attacks in, then adds a Blood Reckoning to dissuade me from any retaliation. Ignoring it, I attack with both Coursers again, and now Sam’s down to 5 life. Frustratingly for her, I go back up to 9 life with another Bountiful Harvest and pass. Next turn, Sam swings in for 5 with her circus freaks, and I block with my Selesnya Keyrune. Although Sam then kills it with an Auger Spree, it avails her little. Her next play is a Tormented Soul, and that’s when it dawns on her that she has no blockers at all, and lethal on the board in the form of my pair of Coursers.
Sam opens her account in our rematch with a Rakdos Cackler, adding the +1/+1 counter for unleash. This lets her swing in for 2 next turn, after which she unleashes a Gore-House Chainwalker. Meanwhile, I patiently play land and pass. Sam’s eager to press her advantage, hammering in for 5 on turn 3 before deploying a Tormented Soul. I play another land and pass.
Now turn 4, Sam flies in for 6 damage, leaving my slower deck at a worrying 7 life. I bring out my first creature, a Healer of the Pride, but am not sure if it’s arrived in time to save me. Next turn I’m down to 3 life as Sam throws her Chainwalker and Soul at me, then- as if I didn’t have enough to deal with- plays a Rakdos Keyrune. A timely Seller of Songbirds gives me a much-needed bump of 4 life to go back up to 7 as I put her and her 1/1 Bird token onto the battlefield.
Now turn 6, Sam animates her Keyrune and sends it in alongside the Soul and Chainwalker. I use a Savage Surge on my Seller to block and kill her Keyrune, but still take 4 from the other two beaters. Back down to 3, I draw and pass. Next turn, Sam goes for the throat with a Traitorous Instinct on my 1/1 Bird token, attacking in with it along with the Soul and Chainwalker. Luckily, I’m able to play Eyes in the Skies to add two more 1/1 Bird tokens to the battlefield and grab back 4 life from the Healer. I use the Birds to block and trade for the Chainwalker, though when the dust settles I find myself at 3 life once more. Back to me, I send my remaining Bird token into the red zone as penance, nicking Sam for 1 point of life. Then I play the Wayfaring Temple and end my turn at 5 life.
Sam attacks with the Tormented Soul and Cackler on turn 8, and I elect to take the damage- a risk, but losing the Healer at this point to some trick would cement my fate. Back to me, I play a Centaur Healer, but Sam’s had enough of the lifegain shenanigans and responds with an Auger Spree to kill the Healer of the Pride. I still get 3 from the Healer of the Centaur variety, and am back to 5 life. This boosts my Temple, so I send it in on the attack alongside the Seller and the Bird token for 6. Sam goes down to 13, and the Temple lets me populate a Bird token. Next turn, Sam attacks in with the Tormented Soul for 1, then plays a Blood Reckoning. At the end of the turn I fire off a quick Heroes’ Reunion for another 7 points of delicious life. I play an Arbor Elf, then attack in for 8 with the Temple and Birds. Though I go down 3 life from the Reckoning, a Chorus of Might gives me ‘exactsies’ to take the game. All credit to Sam, however, who managed to inflict 32 points’ worth of damage on me through the course of the game- all on only four land.
The unleashed Rakdos Cackler makes an encore appearance to kick off our final game, while I find a one-drop in the Centaur’s Herald. Next turn, Sam deplys the Bellows Lizard after attacking with the Cackler for 2. For my part, I find my first creature token with a Call of the Conclave.
Now turn 3, Sam unleashes a Gore-House Chainwalker, while my turn is a blank aside from playing a land. Sam sends in the Chainwalker for 3, so I shove the Herald in front of it to block then sacrifice her for another Centaur token. She then plays the Rakdos Keyrune and passes. Back to me, I counterattack with both tokens for 6.
Turn 5 sees Sam hammer in for 9 as she activates her Keyrune. I play a Savage Surge on a Centaur to let it block and kill the Keyrune, which gets replaced by a Sewer Shambler in Sam’s second main phase. Back to me, I attack with a Centaur, then add a Seller of Songbirds with its 1/1 Bird token. Next turn, Sam sends in the Chainwalker and Shambler for 5. I trade the Seller and Bird for the Chainwalker, going down to 10 life. Sam then unleashes a Spawn of Rix Maadi. Luckily, I hit my sixth land drop and can exile it with Trostani’s Judgment, populating a 3/3 Centaur along the way. With a new defender to hold down the fort, I send in my two active Centaurs for 6. Sam chumps one with her Lizard, going down to 8.
An Auger Spree on turn 7 kills off my defensive Centaur token, after which Sam plays a Rakdos Shred-Freak to leand a 6-point charge. This drops me to 4 life, and next turn I lead with a Selesnya Guildgate. Swinging in again with both Centaur tokens, a Chorus of Might again finds me the win.
Thoughts & Analysis
Although I’ll be the first to admit to my bias, creature combat decks aren’t my favourite deck archetype, as most longtime readers are aware. Every now and again, however, a combat deck comes along that makes red zone skirkishing fun on multiple levels, and hooks me in to its vision. Selesnya Surge is just this sort of deck.
The realisation dawned on me in Game Two, when I started catching the interactions between the Healer of the Pride and the populate cards, as well as those that made more than one per creature per card (like the Seller of Songbirds). We had dismissed the lifegain suite in the previous review as more of the usual filler, but playing the deck let me see just how useful it was here.
Surge has two factors that give it some drag. The first is the mana curve, which only starts to come into its own with your three-drops. This means that the deck takes longer to ‘mature’ before it hits its stride. The other factor is that the deck really, really wants you to have creature tokens in play. So much of the deck is geared towards populate that if you don’t manage to have any tokens in play you naturally are inclined to hold on to your cards until you can get the most value. Combined, this means you can expect to take some hits early, particularly from an aggressive deck like Rakdos Raid. Lifegain doesn’t just become a way to pad your life total, but rather a way to extend the game to let you hit your stride. In each game in the match, I was brought low by Sam only to start to see the pendulum slowly begin to swing the other direction, and the lifegain was an important factor.
Seeing the lifegain engine as an extension of the deck’s core strategy rather than just ‘space filler’ gave me a deeper appreciation for what it had to offer. In addition, the combat trickery added another layer of nuance as you could try and bait traps and lure your enemy in. Rootborn Defenses was excellent for this, but there were other options as well. Since this deck doesn’t go full throttle right out of the gate, you do have a tendency to start on the defensive, giving these conditional cards the conditions they need to shine. Of course, lifegain is often a viable counterstrategy to aggro decks overall, letting you weather out their early storm.
The deck’s core vulnerability lies within its reliance upon tokens, and it’s a good thing that Ratchet Bombs are nowhere to be seen. Without the ability to obtain maximal value through cloning token creatures, the deck becomes much less effective. Even the 1/1 Bird tokens weren’t all that exciting, though they had their role to play. I didn’t get to live the dream by populating 8/8 tokens off the Grove of the Guardian, but I don’t have to have played it to see how brutal it could be here. Overall, this one’s a lot of fun, and a good sequel to the original (Selesnya United).
Hits: Surprising depth for a combat deck; creating tokens and then adding more is a lot of fun; loads of tricks make for engaging red zome play
Misses: Can be vulnerable to faltering if you can’t manage to find an early creature token (preferably of the 3/3 or better variety); removal suite is virtually nonexistent, and it can do little about utility threats that don’t engage in combat
OVERALL SCORE: 4.35/5.00